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Life

Finding Humor in Trauma: How One Girl Almost Lost Her Finger

Isabella Dipalma, 19, is a sophomore at St. John’s University in Queens, NY. Recently, she recounted her story to me over Zoom, the story of how she almost lost her pinkie finger.

In October of 2019, Dipalma decided to take the train out to visit her family on Long Island after her midterms to decompress. On a weekend afternoon, Dipalma and her mother decided to go antiquing where they stumbled upon two katanas, a type of Japanese sword. Having a healthy respect and affinity for Japanese culture, Dipalma was intrigued. Initially only interested in purchasing one, the owner of the swords offered them a discount for buying both, which Dipalma took. 

She took her new toys home with her, excited to clean them, and then proudly display them in her room. Dipalma handled each sword gingerly and slowly. “After I cleaned them, I realized the one we initially weren’t interested in buying was super sharp. [...] I was like ‘damn better bring these upstairs so no one gets hurt on them.’” 

She proceeded to carry each sword individually up the stairs, starting with one that she noticed was sharper than she had anticipated. It also had a worn-down latch that was meant to hold the sheath onto the hilt of the sword. 

She doesn’t entirely remember what happened next. All she knows is that she dropped the sword and pulled her hand back, not thinking that she injured herself at all. That is until she looked down at her left pinkie finger and saw exposed fat tissue sticking out. She says, “I remember having the distinct thought, ‘Wow that really does look exactly as they portray it in the medical diagrams.’”

Dipalma tried holding her finger together as blood spurted out. She calmly asked her mom to drive her to the hospital, which after some screaming, she promptly did. Dipalma was lucky eventually ending up at the Hospital for Special Surgery in which they were able to reattach her finger. 

Dipalma’s roommate at St. John’s, Giuliana Ferrari, 17, remembers hearing the news that Dipalma had severed her finger. Her initial response, “I think I’m going to buy her a tub of ice cream.” She did. It was milk and cookies. The first time Giuliana saw Dipalma was a week after her surgery. She remembers seeing the swollen pinkie with stitches running up the inside of her pinkie between her ring finger. 

I asked Dipalma about what the mental toll of having an injury like that takes on someone. Despite Dipalma’s laid back, warm demeanor, comments about what for her had been a traumatic injury, it really got to her. 

“When I came back people would make fun of me a lot for being ‘sword girl.’ And what stung about that is the assumption that I was just being stupid and messing around with it, dropped it, and got what I deserved. Or they would downplay it saying, ‘At least it was your left hand and not your right, or, ‘At least it was only your pinkie.’”    

On the other hand, she says that the whole situation has also improved her relationship with her mother. “I think she gained a lot of respect for me because of how calmly I handled the situation when both she and Alexa [Dipalma’s sister] were losing their minds. I think she started to see me as more of a dependable adult than as a child.” However, her family has made their lack of trust in her using sharp objects abundantly clear.

“My mom won’t even let me use a butter knife on a lemon anymore,” she said. 

Dipalma also experienced a self-esteem boost for having received a 3.94 GPA that semester despite her injury and unsympathetic professors. “It made me feel a little more assured that I’m not just cocky, I actually have two brain cells to run together.” 

One year later, she says everything is normal except her sensitivity to temperature. She’s also much more open about talking and joking about her injury. She chalks this up to how well the story of her pinkie ended and the passing of time since the initial trauma. 

Both the swords were replicas from the 1986 film “Highlander.” And if you know anything about this film, you may know its most famous quote, “There can only be one.” This very quote, which was inscribed on one of the swords, would take on a whole new meaning for Dipalma. “I like to think of it as a battle between my pinkies. Only one can survive.”

Juliette Kimmins

Stony Brook '22

Hello! I am Juliette and I am a Campus Correspondent for Stony Brook Her Campus. I am going into my 4th year at SBU as a political science and journalism major with a women's, gender, and sexuality studies minor. My interests include film, art, politics, and knitting!
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